In one of the deadliest shipping disasters in Europe, a tragic incident occurred off the coast of Greece, resulting in the drowning of at least 79 migrants. The overloaded boat carrying them capsized and sank in open seas. Rescue efforts are ongoing, but hundreds more are feared dead or missing. A European rescue support charity estimated that approximately 750 people were aboard the vessel, while Greek authorities are cautious about speculating on the exact number.
Alarm Phone, a trans-European network supporting rescue operations, received distress alerts from individuals on the ship before losing contact. They stated on Twitter that, according to the accounts of those on board, there were 750 people present. They expressed fear that reports of a shipwreck might be true. The United Nation’s International Organisation for Migration initially reported that up to 400 people were on the boat.
‼️ A shipwreck occurred today off Pylos, Greece according to @HCoastGuard.
So far 104 survivors were brought to shore while 32 bodies were recovered. Search and rescue efforts continue and we fear more lives were lost.
Initial reports suggest up to 400 people were onboard. pic.twitter.com/7TBTWiHs84
— IOM – UN Migration 🇺🇳 (@UNmigration) June 14, 2023
The Greek coast guard, however, stated that it is uncertain how many people the vessel was carrying at the time of the incident. By midday, 104 individuals had been rescued, but providing an accurate count remains challenging. According to Nikos Alexiou, a spokesperson for the coast guard, it is unsafe to give a specific number as they do not know how many people were in the hold. He added that the outer deck was overcrowded.
Remarkably, the boat’s occupants had rejected an offer of assistance before the tragedy unfolded. Greece serves as a major entry point into the European Union for refugees and migrants from regions such as the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. While most individuals cross from nearby Turkey to Greek islands, the introduction of stricter surveillance at Greek migrant camps by the previous conservative government has compelled an increasing number of migrants to undertake a longer and more perilous journey from Turkey to Italy via Greece.
Although the exact departure port of the vessel was not confirmed by Greek authorities, state broadcaster ERT reported that the sunken boat was en route to Italy, having departed from the Libyan town of Tobruk, south of the Greek island of Crete. This tragic shipwreck stands as the deadliest in Greece this year and is among the most severe incidents in Europe.
🚩Alarm Phone Statement on the fatal shipwreck off #Greece.
Stop blaming people on the move for trying to escape your violence!
Stop blaming people on the move for their own death!
Stop pushbacks, end death at sea, tear down Europe’s borders! https://t.co/mOaRgq6AJ0
— Alarm Phone (@alarm_phone) June 14, 2023
The Greek migration ministry placed blame on international smuggling networks for endangering the lives of migrants. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, urged governments to collaborate in creating safe pathways for individuals fleeing poverty and war. The Greek coast guard was alerted to the vessel’s presence by Italian authorities, after EU border agency Frontex first spotted it in international waters approximately 80km southwest of the southern Greek coastal town of Pylos.
When the Greek coast guard approached the vessel and offered assistance, the large number of migrants on the outer deck declined the help and expressed their desire to continue the voyage. A few hours later, the boat started swaying from side to side, eventually capsizing and sinking around 2 am on Wednesday. According to a government official, most of those aboard were young men in their 20s. The majority of survivors, who hailed from Egypt, Syria, and Pakistan according to an anonymous shipping ministry official, were taken to the town of Kalamata. They are expected to be relocated from there to a camp outside Athens, as stated by the migration ministry.